The Story of Mapping Aotearoa New Zealand, by John McCrystal
I think this is the nicest book anyone has ever given me. Thanks Davie. GOD! I love old maps and here, for the first time, is a whole, beautiful book of them. They’re not of the ancient European world, either. These are New Zealand maps and they tell our (mostly colonial) history through the contemporaneous pens of the early cartographers. I love all the cartographers, too. Continue reading “Singing the Trail – book review”
Its so exciting to get two Opinion Pieces on this topic within days of each other in the Dominion Post. Are we beating ourselves up about this, or what?
Karl du Frense (19.09.19): “I remember almost nothing of the history I learned at Secondary School.” That’s because your teacher was bored witless, Karl! Brian would rather go off topic than do the dull stuff about what Governor George Grey did.
Lana Hart (23.09.19): “New Zealand history is boring, says my daughter” Lana explains that her poor child, by year 8, has done nothing other than the Treaty of Waitangi four times, which really is the wrong place to start.
Always start a history lesson with the people. Continue reading “Our History”
See you in September, by Charity Norman
I was so pleased to win this last week (and thank you Wardini Books, I’m sure you give donations all the time for fundraisers, and I want you to know this one ended up in appreciative hands). Charity Norman lives up the road. She’s quite famous but I’ve never read her before. Where have I been? This was great.
Some books are page-turners because of the writing, some for the plot or the characters, and some books just have a magic hook that drags you through the night (just one more chapter, just one more) because you are in so deep you just have to know how it ends. Arrggh! I put my life on hold while I gripped this book in my clammy hands. Continue reading “See you in September – book review”
Less, by Andrew Sean Greer
I liked Less a lot.
Arthur Less is a white middle-aged, gay, American man walking around with his white middle-aged, gay American sorrows. Well, that is the character in a novel Less is writing. “It’s a little hard to feel sorry for a guy like that,” says a friend. True that.
But somehow we do! Arthur Less is a lovable white middle-aged, gay, American man. All the boys say he kisses like he means it. And Less is nursing a broken heart. He is confused and struggling to understand the depths of his emotions. His much younger ex, Freddy, is about to marry someone else. Less lets him go, because he loves him so much and doesn’t believe he can make him happy. Less leaves town to escape the despair of loss. Continue reading “Less – book review”
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
I read this last year and didn’t review it at the time because of my self-imposed ban on war as a setting. I bang on about it, but it does worry me that our go to narrative for intense emotion is war. Is this why we’ve been systematically at each others throats since the dawn of time? Because we crave powerful emotion?
With that off my chest, I have to say this is a terrific story. Continue reading “Everyone Brave is Forgiven – book review”
It’s just 150 years too late
I’m writing a book about a young student who goes from New Zealand to England to study medicine. Nothing unusual about that now, but this was 1883 and the student – shock horror – was a woman!
My heroine, an invented young woman called Lenne, meets up with Isabel Thorne, a real pioneering women’s activist and one of the Edinburgh Seven, a group of feisty women who had been blocked from graduating from the University of Edinburgh because of their sex. The seven women go on to form the London School of Medicine for Women in 1874 and Thorne, still unqualified, becomes Honorary Secretary. She devotes her life to helping other women achieve the goal denied to her.
Continue reading “Congratulations Isabel Thorne”
A caveat before I put this on the book club list. It may be just too weird for many people, and there is no shame in that. It won the Booker in 2017 and follows my usual rule: read everything on the Booker short-list and avoid the winner, which will be be too edgy for its own good (it is sandwiched between Milkman & Sellout, two obvious cases in point).
However, if you’re willing to try something a bit different, and your book club has been a bit samey for a while and needs a re-boot: here you go.
Lincoln in the Bardo is the kind of book best read drunk. Continue reading “Lincoln in the Bardo – book review”
Sally Rooney is my new discovery. Sure, I’m behind the play on this one, the last two years have seen her plastered with awards. Don’t ask me why she is so good, I find it hard to say why I find the lives of twenty something Irish students and their friends so compelling. They don’t go on adventures or do remarkable things. Their journeys are mostly internal and all about relationships. They’re going through the pretty mundane stuff of growing up, involving incidents that you’ll probably recognise, things that you or your friends might have struggled with.
The two books are similar, each with the main character a very bright girl at university in Dublin, with family issues pulling her emotional strings and intense friendships. Continue reading “Converstations with Friends & Normal People – book reviews”
The Cyprus Tree, by Kamin Mohammad
Let’s add a bit of fire to your book club reading with this book about Iran by Kamin Mohammadi.
It begins, rather dauntingly, with dense chapters of Iranian history and Kamin’s family history, both of which are complicated matters. I admit I stopped trying to make sense of it and lost track of all the uncles’ names (the book shows a family tree though the kindle version doesn’t), but I did enjoy the way these chapters give a rhythm to the story which was unlike western fiction. I got a real sense of how details are so important to this culture and understood why Kamin was introducing us so diligently. In the same way Māori will tell you an iwi history to give you a real sense of who they are and where they came from, Kamin carefully lays out the past for us. Continue reading “The Cyprus Tree – book review”
Birds without wings by Louis de Bernières
God, this is horrific. If you’re looking for a sweet but deep sequel to Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which is what the bloke in our book club thought he was giving us, this is way out of your depth.
This is Turkey before, during and after WWI, the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. I don’t voluntarily read war stories, but this was for book club and having been brought up on the glorious allies, I was interested to read the perspective of the other side’s glorious allies. But I was sickened by the brutality and inhumanity in this story. De Bernières writes with such clarity and perception there are images painted in my head I will never wipe clean. Continue reading “Birds without wings – book review”